If Israel had accepted the Arab Peace Initiative that was declared at the 2002 Arab League summit conference in Beirut, it would have led to the recognition of the state of Israel by 57 Arab and Muslim countries, not only five countries in the so-called Abraham Accords !!!
U.S. President Joe Biden should begin his presidency with an attempt to revive this initiative and work for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel as a democratic Jewish state.
Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Israel has not implemented the terms of the agreement. On the contrary, it has turned its back on all that was agreed upon and began to confiscate Palestinian lands and increase settlement in the West Bank and Jerusalem in a way that makes it difficult to establish a Palestinian state. Thus, it is working to transform the state of Israel into a racist state in which Israel controls the Palestinians and considers them residents living in Greater Israel without equal rights as Jewish Israelis (a total of 6 million Palestinians live in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip).
Gaza — A Free Trade Zone
In 2009, I presented a study on the Gaza Strip at Al Quds (University which described its privileged location on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the southern entrance to historic Palestine and Greater Syria, before the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916-17) between France and the United Kingdom with the ratification by the Russian Empire and Italy for the division of the Fertile Crescent between France and Great Britain.
I focused on the economic situation of the Gaza Strip, which I consider the main entry point for peace in the region, and I suggested that the entire Gaza Strip be transformed into a free-trade zone so that the economic situation of the residents of the Strip would be improved, regardless of who manages or controls it.
In a study done by the American RAND Corporation after the Oslo Accords were signed to establish a safe passage between Gaza Strip and the West Bank named “the Arc,” there was a possibility of connecting this passage with Egypt (via Rafah) and Jordan (via Jericho), Lebanon, Syria, and Haifa sea port in Israel (via Jenin).
Thus, there was a link in the project between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon where those countries could benefit from a Gaza Free-Trade Zone via trade through the marine construction of a seaport in the Gaza Strip. It would also be possible to extend this benefit to include both Saudi Arabia and Iraq (via Jordan) and enable those countries to have access for their goods to the Mediterranean as well as in import operations.
This perception is based on seeing the West Bank cities as an independent economic region but related to becoming an integrated region with it. Thus, Gaza may be considered as a free-trade zone in the south and is supposed to establish a seaport and airport, while the West Bank and Gaza will be linked by, according to the RAND project, the Arc.
Through this vision the Arc project is not only a link between Gaza and the West Bank but also a link in the future for the Palestinian entity with the outside world. This proposal would resolve and meet many of the social and political challenges, such as the admission of some refugees, and it aims to create the concept of a contribution to helping the Palestinian government to encourage private investment, as well as to create jobs and generate the necessary conditions for the redistribution of population growth and nutrition and strengthening social relations, in addition to focusing on infrastructure projects.
This study also considers all political, social, and economic issues that a new Palestinian state will face; and aims to create conditions of economic development and sustainable growth for the population.
With the achievement of peace and the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel, the Israelis can also benefit from the Gaza Strip as a distinct trade area to serve the southern parts of Israel, whether for export or import.
Gaza and Gazans Suffering
The citizens of Gaza Strip have suffered a lot throughout the ages since the establishment of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent British occupation, the Egyptian administration, and the Israeli occupation in 1956, and 1967.
This contributed to the creation of radical Islamic trends that are focusing all their efforts on expelling the occupation and liberating Palestinian land in both Gaza and the West Bank. The impact of that on the lives of citizens at the present time is that the border crossings to and from the Gaza Strip are closed.
The Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip and the political withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza didn’t separate Gaza from the West Bank as was planned by Israel.
The situation in the Gaza Strip got worse after the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 27, 2006. And the movement of goods and people have been almost at a standstill since June 2007, which has very negatively impacted the lives of citizens and has increased the extremism in the region, particularly due to the rise in the unemployment rate to between 40% and 50% and in the poverty rate, which has reached the astronomical figure of 80%.
Following the wars in Gaza, (2008, 2012-14), Gaza residents are still living under inhuman conditions, and a large part of them are still living in tents adjacent to the ruins of their houses which were demolished during the wars.
A report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross in July 2009 on the situation in Gaza stated that the population is facing more and more severe difficulties in managing their lives and earning their living, while patients who suffer from serious diseases cannot receive the necessary treatment.
The Red Cross report pointed out that thousands of Gaza residents whose homes were destroyed and who lost their properties within the past more than 22 years, are still so far without adequate shelter. It also described the severe restrictions imposed over the past years on the movement of persons and goods in and out of Gaza as one of the main reasons leading to the worsening the situation in Gaza Strip in all fields.
These circumstances affecting survival in the Gaza Strip, in addition to the political and economic constraints, will cancel any potential benefits from access funds and grants which were addressed to it from donor countries and others to rebuild the Gaza Strip. The political and economic constraints were even increased during the Trump administration. Although Trump is gone, today Israel is still forbidding the entry of basic materials and construction materials to Gaza, and the crossings still remain closed.
Gaza — Distinct Trade Zone
The establishment of a distinct trade zone in Gaza Strip would definitely improve the lives of the citizens and would contribute significantly to raising the standard of living, which in turn would reduce extremism in the region, and perhaps even completely eradicate this phenomenon (which has increased now), due to the following reasons:
- The establishment of a Gaza seaport could undoubtedly facilitate the import and export of agricultural products at the present time and other industrial products and technology in the future. Export and import operations can be controlled by European observers to be agreed upon (so as not to give Israel any reason for opposition). This would contribute to the economic development of the Gaza Strip, and increase employment, either directly or indirectly.
- A distinct trade area would be a first preparatory step toward the future establishment of a complete free-trade zone in Gaza, which would attract investments for the establishment of many complementary industries, especially by investors in the Far East, to enable them to market their products in Middle Eastern countries.
- The establishment of a distinct trade area in Gaza would contribute to increasing trade exchange between Palestinian territories and Israel on one hand and between Israel and other Arab countries on the other, especially Egypt and across to other Arab countries in the event they reach a comprehensive peace agreement in the region.
- Before the siege and closure of Gaza Strip, the annual value of goods imported from Israel to Palestine was about $3 billion, while the value of exports from Palestine to Israel and through it was about $450-500 million, and Gaza’s share amounted to about 30% of this value. A study conducted by the Peres Center for Peace reported that the value of goods imported from Israel to Palestine could reach $17 billion if a peace treaty were signed by Israel and the Palestinians, while the value of Palestinian exports to Israel and abroad would reach $11 billion!!
- The most important consequence of a free-trade zone in the Gaza Strip would be a distinct increase in per-capita income (about $600/year as of 2009), thereby raising the standard of living, which in turn would reflect positively on the peace process in the region.
- The Gaza Strip would represent the lung of the Palestinian Authority and the future Palestinian state, in that it would link the state with the outside world through a seaport and an airport. That would be done by revising the Paris Protocol to get the Gaza Strip out from the customs envelope with Israel. It should be replaced with bilateral agreements on how to deal with goods exported from Gaza to Israel or through it to other Arab countries. The same applies to goods that are exported from Israel.
- A distinct trade area in the Gaza Strip would constitute a major and stable source of income for the Palestinian National Authority and the future state of Palestine as a result of trade, fees, and income tax revenues.
- It would reduce smuggling via tunnels at Rafah and via sea from the Egyptian side and even eliminate this phenomenon.
- It would provide compensation for the sufferings of the residents for the difficult years that they have experienced and raise the standard of living, which in turn would weaken the extremist movements and perhaps even eliminate this phenomenon completely.